Press Secretary Sean Spicer began his afternoon briefing on Monday with a short statement condemning the attack, in which six Muslim worshippers were shot dead during prayers at the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec.
Despite emerging reports at the time stating the main suspect was a white right-wing fanatic, Spicer’s condemnation quickly turned into an apparent justification for Trump’s controversial curb on immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries.
“It’s a terrible reminder of why we must remain vigilant and why the president is taking steps to be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to our nation’s safety and security,” Spicer told reporters.
This echoes language used in Friday’s executive order, which directed an immediate travel ban for immigrants from nations including Iraq, Syria and Somalia.
But the speed at which the White House appeared to capitalise on the developing situation in Canada has been widely condemned.
And the hasty comment is made all the more questionable by the lack of solid facts available at the time Spicer stood behind the podium.
The Washington Post described Spicer’s comment as “odd” and questioned the other circumstances in which the White House might suggest incorrect information justified Trump’s actions.
“With conflicting evidence, Trump’s team once again assumed an Islamic terror motivation that proved his recent immigration actions correct,” the paper’s Philip Bump wrote.
Initial reports of the Quebec attack and the immediate police investigation painted a confusing picture.
Earlier on Monday reports said one of two men arrested by police was a Muslim of Moroccan descent.
That person was detained after calling 911 and their nationality was not immediately known, a Canadian source familiar with the situation said.
Crucially, however, police later said that one of the men arrested had been released and was now considered a witness.
A suspect, who was arrested at the scene, was then reported to be 27-year-old Alexandre Bissonnette, a white French-Canadian student, according to court documents.
He was charged with six murder counts and five counts of attempted murder with a restricted weapon, Reuters reported.
Police declined to discuss possible motives for the shooting.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, under whom Canada has welcomed refugees and immigrants from Muslim-majority countries, told the Canadian parliament in Ottawa: “Make no mistake, this was a terrorist attack.”
Ironically, Spicer told reporters on Monday that President Trump had agreed on the need for caution before drawing conclusions over possible motives in a phone call with Trudeau following the attack.
“Prime Minister Trudeau was extremely appreciative, and he was also cautious to draw conclusions on the motives at this stage of the investigation, and the president shared those thoughts,” Spicer said.
While media were quick to amend and retract their initial reports mentioning a Muslim suspect, the White House has yet to comment further.